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When babies are born, they come with a range of external and internal characteristics. As the child grows, the physical ones start to influence the child’s life choices. For instance, a long baby who grows into a relatively tall child may do well at sports where height is an advantage.  In the same way, temperamental characteristics are often apparent from day one some babies will be placid, others will reach out for new things with enthusiasm, others will be alert to every sound. These characteristics affect the way the child approaches life and are therefore very  important for parents to understand.

In his book, “When Anger Hurts Your Kids”, McKay describes nine temperamental traits:

Although these temperamental traits are innate they are continually influenced by interaction with each other and  the environment. Parents therefore have a critical role in the early years. You need to be aware of your children’s temperaments because you can provide reinforcement for the socially useful traits and supportively guide changes in the negative ones.

This is not  as simple as it sounds!  These traits each have some kind of value. There are advantages and disadvantages at either end of the ranges. For example, a high degree of persistence is good if a child is learning a new skill but not if they are determined to escape from the back garden!  A small  child that does not like new experiences may be easier to keep safe because they will stick close to familiar adults but they will not try new foods easily and may be very upset on starting kindergarten.

It can be destructive if the parent unintentionally reinforces difficulties. Imagine what goes on in a child's head when they hear their parent say “Oh, she never concentrates! she forgets all the time!” What will that child learn about herself?  It is better to say something that promotes the behaviour you want by giving the child a clear expectation about it  - “ She is going to write a reminder for herself so she will not forget”. The important thing is to treat this positively, not to criticise  a child or call them naughty for something that is an inbuilt  tendency.

Knowing your child’s temperament will  enable you  to  plan behavioural routines that suit them best. A child with high distractability may be helped to concentrate by “chunking” tasks into manageable segments with breaks inbetween. A child that is anxious about new experiences can be introduced gradually to an event with the support of  stories and pictures and playing it out at home. A fussy baby with a low sensory threshold (startles easily) will be harder to soothe than an easygoing one who responds well to regular habits, but  will still be helped by setting up good routines.

Finally, have a look at your own temperament and see how it interacts with your child’s. What differences and similarities are there? and how do they make your relationship easier or harder?

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